Bishop Vincent’s Address to the 2023 Diocesan celebration of World Day for Migrants and Refugees at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Seven Hills.
16 September 2023
I would like to pay my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place, and also pay respect to Elders both past and present. We thank them for their stewardship of the land.
Thank you for joining us on this Diocesan celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Special thanks to Mr Tony Bleasdale OAM, Mayor of Blacktown, which is one of the most migrant and refugee friendly cities in Australia, with 188 nationalities represented. Of course, Blacktown also has a proud link to our First Nations peoples and may we continue to grow in the spirit of reconciliation, healing and justice. A special thanks also to Dr Hugh McDermott, State Member for Prospect, who has worked hard for Western Sydney and engaged actively on different levels with the Diocese of Parramatta and beyond.
I am a former boat person. I fled war-torn Vietnam in the wake of the communist takeover of South Vietnam, not unlike the Afghan, Syrian, Iraqi refugees of today. What has changed is the way Australian government’s response to the issue over the years. I hope to see the same level of bipartisan support for refugees now as there was for me and my fellow boat people in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
We have recently made some modest progress for refugees. We welcome the Albanese Government’s promise to give permanent visas to 19,000 refugees on Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas. But there are thousands of other refugees with no promise of permanent visas. Some of these have no access to employment or social security and are living in destitution. Their plight is enormous. The House of Welcome, Jesuit Refugee Services and the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Peace, all of which are located within the Diocese, are responding to the unmet needs of people seeking asylum in Western Sydney.
We call on the government to implement a fairer process for all affected by the unjust fast-track process and provide an adequate safety net for all asylum seekers; to resettle all people still subject to offshore processing and move them to Australia while they await resettlement; to make detention a last resort and improve living conditions for those detained for security reasons.
It is time for us to reclaim Australia as a responsible world citizen, a wealthy and resourceful nation capable to rise to new challenges as it did throughout history –the kind of Australia that refugees like myself are living testament to. It is time to re-enshrine the best of our traditions with policies that reflect our solidarity, human decency and care for the most vulnerable.
In his message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis recalls that “migrants flee because of poverty, fear or desperation” and points out that some of the most visible causes of migration are “persecutions, wars, atmospheric phenomena and dire poverty”. In this regard, the Holy Father indicates in the Message that “Joint efforts are needed by individual countries and the international community to ensure that all enjoy the right not to be forced to emigrate, in other words, the chance to live in peace and with dignity in one’s own country.”
The Pope also asks, “to see in the migrant not simply a brother or sister in difficulty, but Christ himself, who knocks at our door” and adds that, “as we work to ensure that in every case migration is the fruit of a free decision, we are called to show maximum respect for the dignity of each migrant. In whatever place we decide to build our future, in the country of our birth or elsewhere, the important thing is that there always be a community ready to welcome, protect, promote and integrate everyone, without distinctions and without excluding anyone.”
Asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees are not an imposition, or problem to be solved; they are sisters and brothers to be welcomed, protected, included, and promoted. Our encounter with them enriches our lives and provides us with an opportunity to work together for a better world. Their initiative, resilience and creativity make Australia a better place.
We gather today as people of faith and commitment to shape the future of this country in a way that gives hope to future generations. Inspired by the Gospel, we join our fellow citizens in working towards a just and equitable society, one that is characterised by respect for our First Nations peoples and fair treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Let us build a better Australia and a better world. May our endeavours be brought to fulfilment in accordance with God’s vision of peace, harmony and flourishing for all humanity.